Wait, this does not refer to any confusion entertained by me over my identity but that which has followed me literally like a shadow for the greater part of my life. Yes, this refers to the perplexed impression entertained by most persons over the information they gather from me, regarding A to Z about me, after literally bombarding me with series of questions. The only issue which they don’t refer to is gender. Nowadays, most have ceased posing questions about age. I guess the trend is not to do so, lest their own is asked. Of course, this scribe has learnt through the experience of taking interviews of elderly Indian generation is that yes, there is a set of questions one must be prepared to answer before posing those that one is all prepared to ask the interviewee. Well, this refers to one-to-one interviews and not press-conferences or other gatherings. But that era of refined, homely interviews of those gentlemen, posing questions with a fatherly air, seems to have been lost to history. Now, these carry a little professional and also commercial air about them. Not all, but the business-like air about them, despite their appearing not to be so, cannot be missed.
Well, here, my concern is not professional interviews but the apparently socio-friendly ones, with the put-on, half or literally frozen smiles. Of course, memories of a few still bring a genuine smile, but most still leave me fairly perplexed. One, which still leaves me laughing, is the awed expression on the face of a computer-techie. I had taken his services for then desk-tops in use, when laptops had not entered the field. The young man was fairly delighted to have come across, in his opinion, such a “high-caste Brahmin”. His understanding was based on his pronunciation of my surname. He thought of it as not Dwedi, Trivedi, Chaturvedi but as Solavedi. Oh dear, he took quite some time in understanding and accepting that Suhrawardy was not Solavedi. He assumed Solavedi to be a Brahminical caste nominally linked with 16 Vedas as Dwedis are with two, Trivedi three and Chaturvedi with four.
My parents and sister ran into a similar experience during their brief visit to Odisha. The religious priests assumed that they were there for religious purposes and not for tourism. Oh dear, they refused to believe that they were Muslims. The priests claimed that they had all “records” of their religious background. In those priests’ opinion, my family was “hiding” its religious identity to avoid paying them any money for religious purposes. Interestingly, this scribe has also come across persons, largely from semi-literate classes, who view Muslims as another caste within Hinduism. Of course, in the present phase, this confusion has been considerably eroded owing to anti-Muslim phobia raised by right-wing elements. This has, incidentally, enhanced not mine, but others’ confusion about my “identity.” Now and then, we do have bearded men coming to our homes. But down four generations, from my grandfather, father, brother to his son, nobody has kept a beard. Of course, we are in touch with quite a few veiled ladies but again, for several generations, the veil and/or burkha has not been the dress-code of ladies in our family. Of course, we all are as religious as we can be, but the dress and appearance can hardly be viewed as reflective of most Indians’ religious identity in general, at least in the present era.
It is possible, not having a common Muslim surname has made most confused about my religious identity, at least the ones not familiar with this name’s linkage with a Sufi order. Nevertheless, one does remain perplexed about people deliberating on my religious identity, posing questions on its linkage with Pakistan, Kashmir, Bangladesh, all the places but to my native roots, that is Uttar Pradesh. Of late, fear is being spread questioning national identity of Indian Muslims and their patriotism. There is sudden increase in nature of communal “messages” being spread through WhatsApp and other outlets of communication blaming Muslims for plundering the country, increasing their population to become majority here, not paying income tax and so forth. I presume, other Indian Muslims are facing a similar situation.
Being a journalist, at times, I have also had to answer foreign media for communal missiles targeting Indian Muslims. Let others be as perplexed as they wish to be about my identity. I am not. I was and I remain an Indian Muslim. With respect to communal “messages,” rather than remain quiet, I have responded politely by asking for names of “Muslims” assumed to be “plundering” the country so that action is taken against them. I don’t need to explain my patriotism to any person. I am descendents of those who preferred partition of their families to stay behind here as Indian Muslims. Wherein foreign media is concerned, my answer is, each and every Hindu cannot be blamed for being anti-Muslim and/or participating in anti-Muslim activities. If he/she were, my family, me and other Muslims would not have been living here amidst a secular atmosphere. Secular Hindus outnumber Muslims in demonstrations against anti-Muslim communal activities. Yes, secularism still retains its roots here. Besides, bias of some nature is raising its head in other parts of the world too. Let the world remain perplexed about my identity. I am doing my job as an Indian Muslim and so should every Indian!